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LET HOPE IN
4 Choices That Will Change Your Life Forever
By PETE WILSON
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Pete Wilson
All rights reserved.
TRANSFORM OR TRANSFER
I do some of my best dreaming with my boys. We love to sit in our screened-in porch off the back of our house and just talk. Recently, I proposed the question I often do with them regarding the future. "What do you guys want to be when you grow up?" I love asking my boys this because it changes about once a month and is usually dependent on the last movie they've watched.
My youngest, Brewer, went first. "I want to be a policeman," he said boldly.
My middle son, Gage, took a little more time to think before he sheepishly said, "I think I might want to be a teacher like Pee-Paw."
Then Jett, my oldest, said, "Dad, I want to be an NFL football player. What I can't figure out, though, is whether I'll play in college or if I'll just skip college and go straight to the NFL."
We sat there for a second just staring at each other when Brewer looked at me and asked, "Dad, do you think you'll still be a pastor when you grow up?"
For a moment I forgot about reality and enjoyed having a blank slate from which to dream.
I love the idea of not being "grown up" yet. In my mind that means I still have more ahead of me than behind me. It means I can dream without all the restrictions of reality that comes along with getting older. It means it is still possible for me to become the person I really want to become.
I think most of us are pretty hopeful about the future. We carry our dreams around believing that one day we'll give birth to them. We generally believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today. We like to think that our careers will head in the right direction, our relationships will become even richer, and that the sense of purpose we're chasing after will finally be fulfilled.
But there's one thing often standing in the way of this desirable future we all hope and long for: our seemingly unforgettable past.
The reality is that the best predictor of our future is, in fact, our past. What we have done in the past is probably what we will do in the future, unless there have been some big changes, some monumental transformation.
And I want to start by asking important questions: Do you like who you're becoming? Who you're growing up to be? Really?
IS YOUR PAST YOUR PAST?
I first met Kim at the church that I pastor in Nashville. She was waiting to speak to me after one of the weekend worship experiences when I saw her eyes. While I happily continued somewhat meaningless small talk with a few people, I was eager to hear what she wanted to talk about. I could tell her heart was heavy and that she was about to explode if she didn't talk to someone soon.
Our conversation was surprisingly quick and unemotional, but she made it clear that she needed to sit down and talk as soon as possible. I felt God prompting me to make it happen quickly.
We soon found time to meet, and similar to our last brief encounter, it was clear that Kim was ready to get down to business.
"My life is a wreck," she blurted out.
My first admittedly insensitive thought was, Well, join the club. The reality is nobody usually asks to meet with a pastor because they want to share how pleasant life is.
She continued, "I'm sure you hear a lot of crazy stuff, but I need you to know before I share with you that I really am a good person. I mean, I'm not good, but I love God and I want to do the right thing, but I screw up so often."
My experience is that it takes most people longer to set up their confession than it takes to actually confess. Kim, however, eventually got around to pouring out her heart. It turns out that she had made some really poor relationship choices over the past year and a half. She had been involved sexually with three different men, two of which had been married at the time of her relationship with them.
She was sorry, broken, repentant.
But she was also confused.
She sobbed, "Why do I keep doing this? Why do I keep hurting myself and the people around me? Why? Why?"
While this statistic is unsubstantiated, I would guess that I have no answer for 90 percent of the questions that are asked in my office. Sure, I've got guesses and opinions, but after eighteen years of ministry, I have to admit that I often feel more lost today than when I started.
But as Kim and I continued to talk that day, there was a major theme that emerged: her past.
Kim had spent a good portion of her life trying to win her father's attention, his approval, and ultimately, his love. She shared with me story after story of how she fell short of his expectations and failed to show up on his radar.
Interestingly enough, Kim's first affair was with her boss. As we talked about that relationship, I learned that it started because he was simply kind, understanding, and genuinely concerned about her. These were all qualities she wished her father would have had.
Now don't misunderstand me: I'm not trying to excuse the decisions that followed. I'm not trying to pin this on her father. I just want to point out that we can't deny the role her past wounds were playing in her current decisions.
A heartrending thing about us humans is that we seem to be hardwired to replay the past—especially when our past includes pain and disappointment. We all have natural inclinations and, at times, compulsions to allow our past to deeply impact our present.
And your past is not your past if it's still impacting your present.
Ever wonder why we make a handful of New Year's resolutions every year but rarely keep them? And if we do, we almost never see a lasting change?
Ever wonder why we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over?
Ever wonder why we have such a difficult time maintaining healthy relationships?
Of course you have. We all have.
Is it because we're not disciplined enough? Is it because we don't want it bad enough? While the answer to either of those questions could obviously be yes, I think it's much deeper than that.
When we keep struggling with the gnawing question of "Why am I not getting what I want in life?" one of the questions behind it may be "What am I still carrying with me from my past?"
Whether our pain is close to the surface or hidden deep within our hearts, what happened in our past, if not dealt with properly, is more than likely crippling us from becoming who we were created to become.
But the good news is, who we were yesterday doesn't have to limit who we can be today!
Some of my most popular messages over the years have been on loving others. I'm not sure I have ever met someone who didn't want to love others more radically.
I believe many people listen to these messages on love with hopes of being inspired to live a life of "love." And trust me, I know how to deliver messages that inspire people to love more. But I'm afraid there's a deeper problem.
While many of us have been inspired to love more and have set our hearts on loving more, some of us, in fact, fail miserably when it comes to loving more. The problem is not inspiration. The problem is not what I call "want to." The problem is, we may not have the wholeness to love and live the way we want to.
I'm learning that everyone needs healing. Everyone has been hurt. Some of us have been hurt worse than others, but no one escapes this life without some emotional bruising along the way. And if we haven't dealt with the hurt from our past, it will continue to impact everything we touch.
In other words: If we don't learn to transform the pain, we'll just transfer it.
Your secret sin nobody knows about.
The broken marriage you went through.
The sexual abuse you suffered.
The surprise divorce your parents got.
The miscarriage you experienced.
The bully who made your freshman year miserable.
Your overbearing, critical parent.
Any or all of these things can and most usually will have a tremendous impact on our lives. If we don't find ways to learn from our past, we will almost always be doomed to repeat it.
Maybe what's going on in your life is you're seeking healing for what is still an open wound. Maybe you're longing for the sewing up of something that has long remained ripped and ragged.
Awareness of our past doesn't always come easy. What does come easy is denial. We are quick to intentionally bury emotions that make us feel ashamed or uncomfortable. We confuse what we're feeling with what we think or have been told we should be feeling.
To complicate matters further, there tends to be a pervasive attitude in some circles of the church that communicate that once you give your life to Christ, once you've become a Christian, you at least need to act like you've got it all together.
Read your Bible.
Wear your mask.
Put your best foot forward.
But whatever you do: Don't be a whiner. Don't ask questions. Don't be a pain. Don't be a burden.
I'm not sure where this attitude comes from, but I think it originates with fear. We don't want people to share their broken dreams, hurts, or pain because we're afraid we won't have all the answers.
Is it possible we're afraid that God won't be able to really heal us?
Are we afraid that admitting pain and brokenness somehow discounts our salvation experience? If when we put our faith and trust in Jesus—the old becomes new—why don't we feel new? Why don't we feel transformed? Are we praying wrong?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the account of Joseph. Talk about a tumultuous past.
Joseph was the youngest of twelve boys. It's tough being the youngest, isn't it? My youngest, Brewer, is six and has one goal in life. Well, actually two. The first one is to be able to accurately hit the toilet while standing up to pee. But his main goal in life is getting his two older brothers to acknowledge him. He watches everything they do and follows them from activity to activity. So whether it's playing PlayStation, wrestling in the living room, or competing in a game of touch football in the front yard, Brewer is going to be in the middle of it. And nothing, I mean nothing, brings a bigger smile to his face than when his older brothers invite him into their world.
Joseph was favored by his father, which put him at obvious odds with the rest of his brothers. They were filled with incredible jealousy toward him. They beat him up, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and pretended he was dead.
That would be a devastating series of events for any young person, but imagine all of that happening by the hand of your own brothers from whom you crave love and acceptance. Can you imagine how devastating that moment must have been as he looked up from the pit, broken and bruised, only to see the face of his brothers laughing at him?
It's funny how when someone says they love you, you can't really feel it, but when someone says or shows they "don't love you anymore," you feel every ounce of it draining out of your entire being.
The rejection of his brothers would just be the beginning for Joseph. He would go on to be falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison where he spent day after day wondering where things went wrong, wondering why his brothers hated him. Why had his past been so full of injustice?
Through a remarkable series of events, not only was Joseph released from prison, but he eventually rose to second in command over all of Egypt.
While Joseph was helping lead Egypt, the country endured a vicious drought that forced his brothers to travel to him seeking food for their families. It's a long story, but eventually not only was Joseph reunited with his brothers, but he also forgave them. In a powerful moment, he looked them in the eyes and said, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20 NASB, emphasis mine).
Another way of putting it is, you meant harm, but God had a different plan. Joseph didn't try to deny the past. He didn't pretend that his brothers had never hurt him deeply. But he has the grace to grieve it rather than transfer it.
I love the phrase "but God" and believe a case could be made that it's one of the most important phrases in the entire Bible. This phrase is used throughout Scripture as a turning point, a line of demarcation between peril and rescue, chaos and control, fall and redemption, hurt and healing.
But God! Every time I read a verse that says "but God," it is fantastically good news. There are literally hundreds of verses that have "but God" in both the Old and New Testaments:
The psalmist in Psalm 73:26: "My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever."
Jesus in Matthew 19:26: "Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible."
The apostle Paul in Acts 13:29–30: "When they had done all that the prophecies said about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead!"
Once we were dead in sin, but God made us alive! Once we were captive to our past, but God made us free! Once we were unworthy, but God has promised to spend eternity unwrapping the riches of his grace in kindness toward us!
There's no way around the past. No matter how hard you try, you can't erase it. The goal here is not to become a person who doesn't have a history—that's impossible and useless. The goal is to find a new way of working with the past so it does not continue to impact our future. The goal is to fight the inner urge we all have to return to the past.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
At our church we say, "Everyone is welcome, because nobody is perfect, but anything is possible." I really believe that. I believe that no matter what you've done, where you've been, no matter how far you feel from God today, we worship a God of open arms. A God who says everyone is welcome.
Not only do I believe that "everyone's welcome, because nobody's perfect," I'm also relentlessly committed to the idea that "anything's possible." And I think you may be too. Perhaps it's why you picked up this book. You know that transformation in your life is possible. You know that healing is possible. There's something inside of you that says there's more to this existence here on this earth. You long to become the man or woman God created you to be when he thought you into existence.
We love to cheer for the underdog and believe in our core that every life makes a difference. And we are right. There is no one God can't use and no one whose brokenness is too broken for God. We know this is true for our friends when we want to encourage them. Yet, when it comes to the places of our innermost sense of shame and regret, we often wonder if it is really true that God can work all things together for good for those who love him.
This is what you need to know going into a future that you desperately hope will be different: from the very moment humanity fell into sin, God's plan, God's passion, has been to redeem us and restore us to the life for which we are made.
God is bigger than your history and more concerned with your destiny.
This act of grace, this act of forgiveness, this act of restoration God wants to give. It cannot be forced.
Like anything from God, it has to be received like a gift freely, willfully, and intentionally. This book is about how we receive this gift God so willingly desires to give to us. This book is about dreaming again. This book is about learning to transform the pain so we no longer transfer it.
In the chapters that follow, we will be exploring how many of our choices in life and relationship are tied to our past. Our goal is to break the hold the past has over us, keep what is useful, but also confront the things that limit our ability to live the life God created us to live. And so begins the journey—a journey that you've wanted to take for a very long time, a journey toward hope.
LEAVING SHAME BEHIND
When Will Porter was just eight years old, his life was good. He spent his days playing on the playground, fishing, and enjoying friends as every little boy should. He grew up in an upper-class home where he was blessed to have everything he needed and most things he wanted.
His parents had enrolled him in one of the best schools around. Will says he still remembers the day his school hired a new choir director. This was a big deal because Will, like many of his friends, loved being a part of the choir.
This new choir director came with an impressive résumé. Everyone in the small community of Easton, Maryland, was elated that their kids would get the opportunity to be mentored by someone of his caliber.
As everyone expected, the director took the choir to new heights. Before long, Will and the other boys had the privilege of performing across the country. Everyone knew the credit went to the new choir director. What everyone didn't know is that every time the director was alone with young Will, the director would molest him.
Excerpted from LET HOPE IN by PETE WILSON. Copyright © 2013 Pete Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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